July 17, 2023

SAN FRANCISCO — A new study, published in the journal Healthcare, somewhat surprisingly found that a small amount of brain training helped with recovery from knee surgery, by improving neuromuscular control strategies and knee function. The brain training used in the study was commercially-available BrainHQ from Posit Science.

Knee surgery is the most common joint surgery, with an estimated 800,000 anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction surgeries (ACLR) conducted each year. Research suggests that mental factors (including fear of re-injury, speed of processing, and executive control) play a significant role in diminished knee function, especially affecting joint stability, stiffness, and anticipatory movement. The researchers hypothesized that brain training could improve knee function outcomes following ACLR.

Researchers recruited 20 post-surgery ACLR patients and 20 healthy adults (as a control group), all between the ages of 18 and 45. ACLR participants were cleared by their physicians to return to pre-injury levels of activity. The control participants were matched by age, gender, and leg dominance, and regularly maintained moderate physical activity. All participants were assigned to a self-paced 4-week training program, in which they were asked to complete 10 hours of computerized BrainHQ brain exercises. All were assessed before and after training.

Executive function was measured using the Dimensional Change Card Sort (DCCS) and Flanker Inhibitory Control and Attention (FICA) tests. To assess joint stiffness, the researchers used a custom-built stiffness and proprioception assessment device measuring how fearful pictures of knee injuries impacted joint stiffness. To assess knee function, researchers utilized the Knee Outcome Survey–Activities of Daily Living (KOS-ADL) self-assessment, and a visual analog scale known as the global rating of knee function (GRKF). Additionally, a single-legged hop test was conducted to assess discrepancies in function between knees.

Researchers found both groups had significant improvements in executive function (FICA and DCSS) after brain training. The ACLR group had significantly greater mid-range stiffness in response to fearful pictures before the intervention, but not after, and showed significantly better distance on the single-legged hop after training, while the control showed no improvement.

“We tend to think of physical exercise to improve physical function and brain exercise to improve brain function,” observed Dr. Henry Mahncke, CEO of Posit Science. “This study supports the increasing awareness that the mind-body connection is bi-directional. Just as physical exercise can contribute to brain health through, for example, better blood flow, brain exercise can meaningfully help with physical outcomes. After all, it’s the brain that controls the body.”

BrainHQ has shown benefits in hundreds of studies. Such benefits include gains in cognition (attention, processing speed, memory, decision-making), in quality of life (depression, confidence and control, health-related quality of life) and in real-world activities (health outcomes, balance, driving, hearing). BrainHQ is offered, without charge, by leading national and 5-star Medicare Advantage plans and by leading medical centers, clinics, and communities. Consumers can try a BrainHQ exercise for free daily at https://www.brainhq.com.